Film Review: Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Also known as: Conan II, Conan: King of Thieves (working titles)
Release Date: June 29th, 1984
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Mako, Tracey Walter, Olivia d’Abo, Sarah Douglas, Andre the Giant, Pat Roach

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“How do you attract a man? What I mean is, suppose you set your heart on somebody. What would you do to get him?” – Princess Jehnna, “Grab him! And take him!” – Zula

I don’t think I’ve ever met a single person that prefers this film to its predecessor, Conan the Barbarian. That being said, this is still an enjoyable flick that’s pretty cool to revisit once or twice a decade.

The Conan character is cool and almost everything he’s been in has been good. This film fails to live up to the one before it but sequels rarely do. That doesn’t make it bad, it’s just a movie that was really lacking in overall quality and intensity because the studio realized that this character had young fans and thus, we got a PG movie instead of something with a solid R.

The special effects were a mixed bag. Some of it looked pretty bad but certain things, even if not spectacular, still had an enchanting allure about them. For instance, when the ghost-like dragon steals the princess, it’s a very dated looking effect but it has a real dreamlike quality to it that just works. Also, even though the mirror room sequence was shot under too many lights, it still felt otherworldly and mesmerizing.

The monster effects weren’t very good and I think having a bunch of bizarre creatures in this, sort of dragged down the rest of the movie. The picture tried to be more creative and ambitious than the first one, where the only real creature was a giant snake, but all the monsters looked rubbery, clunky and not very inspiring.

Also, the story is a mess. I’ve seen this film at least a half dozen times and I still don’t know what the hell is going on in half of the scenes. I feel like a lot of context and exposition was left on the cutting room floor.

What makes this film work for me though, is the cast. I pretty much like everyone in this film and the chemistry between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Grace Jones is stupendous. I wish they had done more movies together when they were both in the prime of their careers.

Tracey Walter was good in the film; he’s a character actor that popped up in a lot of stuff in the ’80s and ’90s. I also enjoyed Sarah Douglas, who I wish was in more movies back in the day. Olivia d’Abo did a decent job for this being her first movie. I think the only weak person in the main cast was basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, who was never much of an actor but at least he gave it a shot.

This is directed by Richard Fleischer, who would also helm Red Sonja, a year later. He had a really interesting career, as he directed so many different styles and genres of film. He also directed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Soylent Green, Fantastic Voyage, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Doctor Dolittle, Mandingo, Amityville 3-D, the 1980 version of The Jazz Singer and lots of classic film-noir pictures.

Basil Poledouris returned to score the movie but this one isn’t as memorable as the first film’s iconic music. This film’s theme isn’t as powerful and just lacks the extra oomph that Conan the Barbarian had.

If you enjoy the Conan franchise, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. I still feel compelled to revisit it from time to time and I’m always glad when I do.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Conan the Barbarian, the Conan the Barbarian remake, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.

Film Review: Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Release Date: April 2nd, 1982 (Sweden)
Directed by: John Milius
Written by: John Milius, Oliver Stone
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Gerry Lopez, Mako, William Smith, Max von Sydow

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Edward R. Pressman Productions, Universal Pictures, 129 Minutes

Review:

“Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to Hell with you!” – Conan

Conan the Barbarian is a hard movie to top in the sword and sorcery sub-genre of fantasy. It really set the standard in 1982 and it also spawned innumerable ripoff films, mostly from Europe and mostly schlock. A few wannabe Conan pictures were good but there’s too many to address when I’m here to specifically review this film.

This is also the superior Conan film, as its sequel didn’t live up to this one and its remake, decades later, was lacking the lightning in a bottle that made this film special.

When I was a young boy, I looked up to this film. I looked up to Conan and his struggle and his fight to seek out justice for himself and eventually, the world he lived in. In 2018, this would be considered a film that exudes “toxic masculinity” while being dismissed as shit by third wave feminists and male apologists. Sorry, but Conan, even fueled by revenge, was a flawed hero that went on to be a king, against all odds, and continually vanquished the evil in his world. In fact, this film got me into reading Conan comics, as well as the original stories by Robert E. Howard.

Conan the Barbarian is a balls out, unapologetic action film about one badass dude that’s not just going to take the bullshit of tyrants.

Now the film, like its title character, has its flaws. But compared to other big action movies of the time, those flaws aren’t as bad and not as apparent.

The acting is what you would expect from a Schwarzenegger film, the direction is much better than average and the special effects are actually great for a 1982 film that didn’t have a massive budget.

The thing that really makes this film more superb than it would have otherwise been is the score by Basil Poledouris. Conan the Barbarian has one of the coolest and most powerful themes in film history. It isn’t just the title theme that’s great though, it’s the music throughout the entire picture. It just sets the mood and pacing right. It accentuates the action and subtly gives life to the slower bits.

My only real complaint about the film is it does feel drawn out too long. They could have fine tuned it, whittled it down by 15 minutes and it probably would have moved at a brisker, more energetic pace. There are a lot of action sequences and there are a few moments where you feel like you’ve reached the big finale, only for the film to stretch on more. But don’t get me wrong, all the action bits are damn solid.

The opening sequence of this film is powerful, beautiful and breathtaking. It is the best shot and best paced sequence in the entire movie but it really draws you in and makes you want to go on this long journey with the hero. James Earl Jones, no matter how many times I have seen this scene, is still absolutely chilling.

Conan the Barbarian is a film that couldn’t be made in quite the same way that it was in 1982 with Hollywood politics being what they are.

Although, I could be wrong about that, as the new Conan the Barbarian comic by Marvel surprised me in how badass and brutal its recent first issue was. But maybe that’s only because it speaks to a particular audience that Marvel knows they’d lose if they messed with the formula.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Conan the Destroyer, the Conan the Barbarian remake, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.

Film Review: Jingle All the Way (1996)

Also known as: Could This Be Christmas? (script title)
Release Date: November 16th, 1996 (Mall of America premiere)
Directed by: Brian Levant
Written by: Randy Kornfield
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, Jake Lloyd, Curtis Armstrong, Robert Conrad, Martin Mull, Jim Belushi, Richard Moll, Mickey Rooney, Paul Wight, Mo Collins

1492 Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 89 Minutes, 94 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“We get one day a year to prove we’re not screw-ups, and what do we do? We screw it up.” – Myron Larabee

I never saw this movie in its entirety until Christmas Day, 2018.

When it came out in 1996, I thought it looked terrible. I was also a senior in high school and going out with girls was more important than watching bad movies with Arnie, Sinbad and young Anakin Skywalker crying over a lame toy.

Since I have exhausted so many Christmas classics, I figured that I’d give this a chance. Besides, I actually love Arnie, Sinbad and the great Phil Hartman. Plus, this also has small roles for Curtis Armstrong (Booger from Revenge of the Nerds), Martin Mull, Jim Belushi, Richard Moll (Bull from Night Court), Mickey Rooney, Robert Conrad, Mo Collins and “The Big Show” Paul Wight.

So if I’m being honest, which I always am, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this stupid movie. It’s a lot of fun, there isn’t a dull moment and the chemistry between Schwarzenegger and Sinbad is really good. I actually just wish that they would’ve shared more scenes together.

The rest of the cast also did well and the rivalry between Arnold and Phil Hartman was entertaining. Man, Hartman was great as a neighbor creeper moving in on Arnold’s wife but in all seriously, was he insane? Arnie’s the f’n Terminator!

The only big problem with the movie is that it all falls apart in the finale. I was on board and digging everything up until the parade where Arnold and Sinbad are dressed up like a superhero and a supervillain and Arnold actually has a functioning jetpack. I know that this is a dumb, mindless movie but watching Arnold fly around downtown without proper jetpack training, moving in a way that isn’t possible by physics, made it so that I couldn’t suspend disbelief any longer. It was total cringe and destroyed the fun movie that this was before that shoddy action sequence kicked off.

Ignoring that atrocious ending, I probably would have given this about a 7.25. Seriously, I enjoyed it that much for 90 percent of the movie.

Still, I’d watch this again but probably not for several years once I’ve run through a few dozen other holiday films.

Plus, the cast keeps things pretty engaging for the most part and the reindeer fight was the stuff of legend.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Schwarzenegger comedies: Kindergarten CopTwins and I guess Junior but no one should suffer through that one.

Film Review: Killing Gunther (2017)

Also known as: Why We’re Killing Gunther (working title)
Release Date: September 22nd, 2017 (Internet)
Directed by: Taran Killam
Written by: Taran Killam
Music by: Dino Meneghin
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Taran Killam, Bobby Moynihan, Hannah Simone, Cobie Smulders

MadRiver Pictures, StarStream Media, Saban Films, 93 Minutes

Review:

“[after Gunther escapes on a chopper] He got to the chopper.” – Blake

This could have been a really awesome action comedy, as the premise was great and it had Schwarzenegger in it. Sadly, it was duller than a half melted plastic knife trying to cut through a Huddle House steak.

The story follows a group of assassins that band together in an effort to kill super assassin Gunther (Schwarzenegger). The group of assassins are all bumbling asshats that continually screw up and it’s supposed to be funny, I guess. It isn’t and none of the jokes are very effective or even that original. The girl assassin is fairly badass but she’s just bogged down by the male idiots around her because in 2018, women are tough heroes and men are morons… yawn.

Anyway, Schwarzenegger is by far, the only good thing about this movie and he’s why I don’t rate this a 4 out of 10. However, he doesn’t even show up until the last fifteen minutes. It’s a lot of fun once he’s there but chances are, most people will fall asleep or give up on this unfunny dud before they even get that deep into the movie.

I will say that the set up of this film was pretty ok. It did a decent job of showcasing the characters and what they’re about. But once you get into the team’s formation, it just drags and drags until you get to see Schwarzenegger at the end.

It also has a lot of technical issues.

Mainly, the special effects are worse than something my adolescent niece can do with Adobe After Effects. The CGI blood splatter is laughably bad, as are a lot of the explosions and gun fire. What is really hilarious, is how these people run around pretending to shoot guns, as the gun fire effect is added in post-production, but they don’t even act out the fact that firearms have actual recoil. I’ve seen more realistic firefights in a PlayStation 2 game. We’re up to PlayStation 4, for those of you who aren’t video game savvy.

Unless you are a serious, hardcore fan of Arnie, this is a total waste of time. Or just fast-forward to the point where they raid his home at the end.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: I guess other Schwarzenegger comedies but this won’t be better than or equal to any of them.

Film Review: Predator (1987)

Also known as: Alien Hunter, Hunter, Primeval (working titles)
Release Date: June 12th, 1987
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Shane Black (uncredited)
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weather, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Richard Chaves, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Shane Black, Kevin Peter Hall

Lawrence Gordon Productions, Silver Pictures, Davis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes

Review:

“Run! Get to the chopper!” – Dutch

Outside of the first two Terminator movies, this is the best thing that Schwarzenegger has ever done. In all honesty, I hold it in the same regards as the first two Terminator films because it is that damn good and it still works really well today.

Predator is one of those films that you assume every red blooded American male has watched, memorized and has the same appreciation for it as the other real red blooded American males. When you meet a guy that hasn’t seen it, you have to suspect if they are a communist or if they grew up “winning” a bunch of participation trophies for a pottery competition. Any red blooded American male that has seen this 107 minute masterpiece of majestic masculinity knows that Schwarzenegger is the second coming of the Jesus and that his mercenary crew are his apostles while Carl Weathers is his Judas.

This is a damn near perfect movie if all you’re looking for is chiseled beast men with massive guns (literally and figuratively), stomping through a jungle, spitting tobacco, making pussy jokes and murdering the everliving crap out of whatever they’re paid to murder the everliving crap out of. Throw in a giant beast alien with high tech gadgetry, stealth camouflage and a penchant for skinning its victims and you’ve got the cinema’s equivalent to the Holy Bible for dudes. Although, I also know several ladies who have been captivated by the Holy Word of John McTiernan with this and his other Holy work called Die Hard.

Apart from the reasons I’ve already talked about, this film also benefits from the incredible theme and score by Alan Silvestri. It is still one of the best scores he has ever done and it is simply badass.

The film also makes incredible use of its environment. You feel the heat and the discomfort, as these beefy men traverse through a thick jungle in Central America. The jungle is really the main character of this film and it overshadows the cast, despite the incredible lineup of talent that is in this: Schwarzenegger, Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, the Predator itself, etc. The film was actually filmed in Hawaii, for the record.

The one thing that could’ve really been the “make or break” moment of the film ended up being one of the most memorable scenes of the entire 1980s. That was the reveal of the monster. The Predator creature design was handled by the maestro, Stan Winston. The look of the creature is friggin’ incredible and it is still one of the coolest and most badass movie monsters going today.

The problem with this film and its monster being so damn great and iconic, is that no sequel will ever live up to this film. And so far, no sequel has. People seem to have a sort of disdain for Predator 2 but fuck those people. It’s also damned good, not a classic as this one is, but it is true to the spirit of the original. Also, Predators was a good experience as well. I think it is the weakest of the three Predator films but it is still a lot of fun and has some big iron balls like the other two films. Then there are those Alien Vs. Predator movies. While the concept works great in comic books and video games, it wasn’t very good on the big screen, sadly.

On a side note, Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally in this, as another alien creature, but the whole thing got cut from the film. Just saying, if Van Damme made it into this picture too, even if he was obscured by his costume, the testosterone levels in this movie would have run over and flooded whatever village this was filmed near.

Predator is one of my all-time favorite films. It will always be one of my all-time favorites. If you don’t feel the same way, you’re probably a hippie communist that writes poetry for your plants.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Predator 2 and Predators. Ignoring those AvP movies is probably best for everyone.

Film Review: The Running Man (1987)

Also known as: Battle Runner (Japanese English title)
Release Date: November 13th, 1987
Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Written by: Steven E. de Souza
Based on: The Running Man by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Dawson, María Conchita Alonso, Jesse Ventura, Mick Fleetwood, Dweezil Zappa, Yaphet Kotto, Marvin J. McIntyre, Jim Brown, Kurt Fuller, Lin Shaye, Professor Toru Tanaka

Braveworld Productions, Taft Entertainment, HBO Pictures, TriStar Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Killian, here’s your Subzero! Now… plain zero!” – Ben Richards

This is a Stephen King story, even if the author wrote this under a pseudonym. It was brought to life by the screenplay of Steven E. de Souza, who also penned the scripts for Die Hard 12Commando48 Hrs. 12 and a bunch of other cool shit.

Add in a cast that boasts manly badasses Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, Jim Brown and Yaphet Kotto and there are almost too many iron balls on the screen. This is a festival of testosterone and broken bodies.

You also have Richard Dawson, who was the perfect choice for the role of Killian, and María Conchita Alonso, who I’ve been crushing on since about fourth grade.

This story takes place in a dystopian corporate future where an innocent soldier is framed for a massacre that he actually tried to prevent. He escapes prison and goes on the run, using a very apprehensive TV executive to help him get to freedom. She freaks out in the airport though and the soldier is caught and forced to compete in a strange game show. The soldier and his allies have to fight their way through derelict city blocks, fighting off gimmicky warriors that the live studio audience chooses to apprehend and murder them in cold blood for their entertainment. As the soldier starts offing these warriors, public opinion changes and the people start cheering for this “criminal” against the corporate system that is trying to snuff him out.

The film’s themes are very similar to two films from 1975: Death Race 2000 and Rollerball. This certainly doesn’t make this story a rehash of those, however. This is unique and just a cool twist on the manhunt genre.

I always loved Schwarzenegger in sci-fi settings, especially ones dealing with a dark future. While this isn’t anywhere near as good as the first two Terminator movies, it is a lot of fun and still holds some social and political relevance today, over thirty years later.

The effects are good for the time, the characters are twisted but cool and this almost feels like a mashup of American Gladiators, old school WWF and Blade Runner.

I still love this movie and even if it hasn’t aged too well, it is a product of the awesome ’80s and still works within the context of its creation.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other ’80s Schwarzenegger films. For style and themes, it works with the original Rollerball and Death Race 2000.